The Macro on Micromanagement (Part 1 of 3)

By Tom Davidson

What’s the real deal with micromanagement? How can you find the spot between the hands-off approach and the evil overseer? Learn that and more, here:

As a manager, you might be called a lot of things. A dictator because you often have to tell people what to do. An ogre because you hold people accountable. Even a corporate mouthpiece because you stand up for your organization’s values. But if someone calls you a micromanager, then you could be in real trouble!

But what’s the real deal with micromanagement anyway, and how can you find the sweet spot between the hands-off approach and the evil overseer? Sometimes it’s a fine line, but the essence of the challenge is to choose the right mix for the person and the situation.

Know Your M.O.
The first step in unraveling this conundrum is to examine and understand your own modus operandi as a leader, and then widen your repertoire to include a variety of styles and behaviors that you can draw from as needed.

We all have a leadership style, based on our individual personalities (i.e., what was given to us by nature) and our life experiences, training and observations (i.e., what we learned through nurture). This combination of nature and nurture amounts to our “wiring,” which leads to a certain modus operandi (i.e., your “M.O.” or method of operation). If left unexamined or unexpanded, this can become the modus operandi, your overused default setting.

The underlying problem in micromanagement stems from the fact that most managers rely too heavily on what comes naturally rather than what is needed in any given situation. The fact that you have one of these is not the problem; it’s the fact that you might fail to broaden your range and use other approaches when necessary.

For example, a detail-oriented individual with a strong leader-like personality is likely to be a very hands-on manager and may push the envelope of micromanagement a bit too far or too often without realizing the unintended consequences. At the other extreme, a “big-picture” leader who prefers the laissez-fair approach to managing people (i.e., let them do as they will) is likely to leave people alone far too long or too often and therefor fall short of helpful and responsible oversight.

Of course, there is any number of combinations of these two factors that might dictate your natural style. It’s critical that you know your M.O. so that you can adjust quickly and appropriately rather than default too easily. Here’s a template for your self-assessment.

Fastidious (high leader-like and high detail-focused) – Tells people what to do but might as well do it for them because the execution will rarely meet your expectations, and you’re likely to want to do things over or change their decisions anyway.
Flyby (high leader-like and low detail-focused) – Drops delegations out of the sky and then flies away to make another deposit, leaving subordinates to fend for themselves far too often or too long.
Fool-It-Yourselfer (low leader-like and high detail-focused) – Keeps tasks for yourself because you don’t trust others enough to do their work well, have not prepared them, or believe you can do things better and faster yourself.
Figurehead (low leader-like and low detail-focused) – Avoids significant contact with subordinates because you’re more interested in other things, are not that good with people, or are enamored with creative ideas more than executing them.

As you can see, no extreme combination of the two factors (i.e., leader-like and detail-focused) is a completely productive combination. Once you realize the downsides of staying rooted in one such M.O., you’ve cleared the first hurdle in finding the sweet spot for each of your direct reports and are ready to think about the next two macro points about micromanagement in parts 2 and 3 of this blog series.

For more information on delegation, see Chapter 3 of The 8 Greatest Mistakes New Managers Make by Tom Davidson, Rumford Academy Publishing, 2010).

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